Our History

The YKK-sponsored Widnes Wild won the 2021/22 Moralee Cup after a nail-biting 2-legged final against Dundee Comets in February 2022 (Photo by Geoff White)

WIDNES WILD ICE HOCKEY CLUB

Widnes Wild were established to enter Division 2 North (now Laidler Conference) of the National Ice Hockey League during the summer months of 2013. Original team manager Mick Caunce had run the Fylde Flyers club in Cleveleys for the two previous seasons and, after that club folded, he and coach Mark Gillingham, along with a core of former Flyers players, moved to set up the new team in Widnes.

The team name of Widnes Wild was chosen with a distinctive ‘big cat’ logo and a white, black and gold playing uniform.

Despite some inconsistent results during this debut season, public support for the team grew, with crowds often topping 400. Crowd interest was encouraged by huge double page photo spreads in the local press.

After a credible fifth place finish, the Wild found themselves in the end-of-season play off weekend at Solihull where, despite a good performance, they were eliminated in the semi final by eventual double winning Barons.

The 2014-15 season saw four league victories over neighbours and close rivals, Deeside but, once again the formidable Solihull Barons were the major obstacle with Telford Tigers NIHL taking the runners up slot in the league.

The Wild improved on the previous season by finishing 4th in the league and once again qualifying for playoffs.

They also took part in the promotion/relegation play-off double header against Whitley Warriors. Once one of the biggest clubs in the country, Whitley proved far too strong, despite the Wild being cheered on by a big travelling support in the North East.

The summer of 2015 saw Mick Caunce and some of the players and officials from the previous two seasons leaving the club, and Mark Gillingham stepping down as the Wild’s Head Coach due to work commitments. Former Telford EPL star Scott McKenzie was appointed as player-coach in a full time professional role and Jon Anderson took over as General Manager

Despite huge hopes of winning the league title, the Wild were pipped in the league by Deeside and had to make do with second place. The two teams met in the play off final at iceSheffield where the Dragons completed the league and play off double.

The Wild met Sheffield Spartans in their second end of season promotion/relegation play off in two seasons, but the Yorkshiremen proved too strong in the game staged at Blackburn Arena.

Season 2016-17 started with controversy with the unexpected departure of player coach Scott McKenzie to local rivals Deeside Dragons just weeks before pre season training.

His replacement was Oliver Barron, a hugely experienced player who was keen to take on a player coaching role following a long playing career in the senior ranks with various Sheffield teams. The sad demise of the Sheffield Spartans led to his availability along with fellow Spartans, brother Will, Andrew Turner, Stuart Brittle, Mike Mawer, Nick Manning and Matt Croyle, who all signed for the Wild.

Despite the summer upheavals the Wild enjoyed their best ever season up to then, finishing runners up again in the league but this time just 2 points behind an unexpectedly strong Blackburn Eagles team. Widnes met archrivals Deeside Dragons in one-off promotion game at the neutral Blackburn Arena but lost out in overtime after drawing the match 3-3.

The Wild once again featured in the Play Off weekend – this time at iceSheffield. They beat Altrincham Aces 2 –0 in the semi-final and then beat the Sheffield Senators 2-1 in the final to secure the first silverware in the club’s short but eventful history.

The 2017/18 season saw the Wild finish as runners-up for the third year in a row – this time behind Sutton Sting, who had dropped into the Laidler Division for a season of rebuilding.

Interestingly enough, Widnes had a superior “head to head” record against all the top teams in the league – Sutton, Telford, Hull and Altrincham – and it was surprise defeats at the hands of Bradford and Sheffield, who both finished in the lower half of the table, that cost them the title.

The Laidler Play Off weekend was held at Planet Ice Widnes for the first time in April 2018 and, after a highly dramatic semi final against Hull Jets that went to overtime and sudden death penalty shoot out, the Wild beat Sutton in the final to collect their second play off title in a row.

In summer of 2018, the Wild secured a sponsorship deal with world renowned company YKK and went on to have best ever season of their 6 year history, finally winning the elusive Laidler Division title after having finished in second place in the league for the past three years.

Ollie Barron set out his stall in the summer by signing players with considerable Moralee Division experience such as Scott Cooper and Ross Jordan, and also Daniel Fay – who had previously been playing for Bracknell Bees in S1.

Top scoring Czech import Jakub Hajek was lured away from local rivals Altrincham Aces and the second import berth was filled by Michal Novak – another Czech-born player with considerable lower league experience in his native land but unknown in this country.

After early season defeats away to Telford Tigers and Hull Jets, Widnes bounced back and embarked on a club record 17-game winning run that saw them establish themselves the top of the league table and build up a significant lead over the chasing pack.

That impressive run came to an end away at Telford and then a home defeat to the Tigers as well left the Wild players and fans sweating over the mathematical permutations for the title for a little longer than might otherwise had been the case.

Widnes finally secured the necessary points for their first league championship with a win over local rivals Altrincham Aces on 17th March with two games left to play.

The title win led to a first ever appearance in the Division 2 National Championship final at the Coventry weekend but this ended in a 7-1 defeat by the South 2 Champions Slough Jets.

The Wild bounced back to win their third play off title in a row in the tournament that was once again staged at Widnes, beating Hull Jets in a highly entertaining final after having overcome Bradford Bulldogs in the semi.

Following on from this double winning triumph, Ollie Barron decided to step down as coach and retire from the game. Several other senior players also left the club, either following Barron into retirement or switching to other teams.

The 2019/20 season saw Mike Clancy appointed as head coach but the team struggled with injuries and the season was cut short in March 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.  The Wild finished in fourth place in the Laidler Division table after the EIHA  decided to write off the remaining unplayed games as 0-0 draws with no points awarded.  This denied Widnes to opportunity of an exciting potential title showdown with eventual champions Hulls Jets as a winner takes all encounter had been scheduled as the last match of the season.

After a 12 month shut down of competitive ice hockey, the Wild successfully applied for “elite status” and were able to take part in the NIHL North Cup streaming series, which was played behind closed doors due to Covid restrictions. Former player coach Ollie Barron returned to the club and put together a strong squad which went on to win the cup competition.

Richard Haggar took over as player coach for the subsequent NIHL North Three Rivers Cup tournament, which saw the Wild finish in second place behind cup winners Sheffield Scimitars.

Widnes qualified for the Division 1 National Championship Play Offs where they beat Slough Jets 5-3 in the semi final and then Sheffield 7-4 in the final to be crowned Division 1 National Champions for the first time.

During the summer of 2021, Richard Haggar was confirmed as player coach for the 2021/22 season where the Wild are planning to set up a league and play in the Moralee Division for the first time.  The club also has a new General Manager in Wez Spurrett who is overseeing day to day affairs.

SEASON 2021/22 – MORALEE DIVISION

The YKK sponsored Widnes Wild have had their best ever season in terms of league performance, having finished the 2021/22 campaign in 3rd position in their first ever season in the Moralee Division.

It has been a superb achievement for player coach Richard Haggar and his new look team and back room staff – especially as they also won the Moralee Cup, seeing off stiff opposition in the group stage, overcoming  Solway Sharks in the semi-final final and then beating Dundee Comets over two legs in a closely contested final.

The Wild entered the season as the new boys in the division but they already had a growing reputation at the higher level after a successful mini season in the “behind closed doors” streaming series saw them secure the North 21 Cup and the National Division 1 Championship Title.

However, a full length league season playing against long established teams was a different prospect all together and Haggar had the daunting task of putting together a squad that would be able to consistently compete at that level.

Many of the old fan favourites from the Laidler Division team returned for the new season and they were boosted by signings from Hull Jets such as Kieran Beach, Jay Robinson and Tom Brierley, along with Sheffield sharpshooter Nathan Britton, Vlads Vulcanovs and Joe Wyatt from Altrincham and, later in the year, Matty Barlow from Bradford.

The Wild also attracted major National Division talent with the signings of  Chris Wilcox and Tom Stubley from Hull Pirates and Liam Charnock from Leeds Chiefs and all three have gone on to be key players this season.

In goal, Harrison Walker continued the fine form that he showed in the streaming series games and Evan Coles has been a very worthy back up.  The Wild also encouraged youth development with the signing of several under 23 players on 2 way contracts with Laidler Division teams, all of whom have had the opportunity to play in Moralee matches this season.

In terms of their playing record for the season, it is probably fair to say that Widnes have exceeded most people’s expectations.

To notch up home and away wins on a consistent basis against long established Moralee Division sides such as Solihull Barons, Billingham Stars, Blackburn Hawks – and even the fast improving Nottingham Lions – is not to be sniffed at.

The Wild even managed to run eventual league champions Solway Sharks close in their various encounters, taking a point for an overtime league loss at home and then drawing 3-3 away in the cup semi final, which was the only time that the Sharks failed to win in Dumfries all season.

Widnes then beat Solway 5-4 in the home leg of the cup semi-final to set up a fascinating two-legged final against Dundee Comets.

The final followed a very similar pattern to the semi with Widnes drawing 3-3 away on Tayside on the Saturday and then securing the cup with a narrow 4-3 win at home the night after.

Back in the league, eventual runners up Whitley Warriors were the only real fly in the ointment this season with 4 straight wins in 4 league games – and one of those games went to overtime and a penalty shoot out after a 3-3 draw on Merseyside.

So, following a barnstorming first season in the Moralee Division, the Wild finished in a very creditable 3rd place in the league table – with 35 points from their 28 games.

This left them 8 points adrift of second place Whitley and a massive 18 behind champions Solway – but also a good 8 points ahead of 4th place Solihull Barons.

A final record of 16 wins and 3 overtime losses at this level is a very impressive achievement and is a great basis to build upon for next season.

Top Points Scorers

In the scoring stakes, Vlads Vulcanovs was the top goalscorer in the Moralee Division with 38 goals in 26 league games  while Richard Haggar notched up the most assists – 42 from 28 games.

Peter Gapa from Solway Sharks was the top overall points scorer with 33+34 while Haggar and Vulcanovs finished up 3rd and 4th with 18+42 and  38+21 respectively.

In terms of the Widnes team, Liam Charnock weighed in with 9+24, Tom Stubley with 11 + 21 and Matty Barlow, Chris Wilcox, Dani Haid, Mikey Gilbert, Nathan Britton, Joe Greaves & Jay Robinson all reached double figures.

Penalty Kings

Joe Greaves ended up with the highest penalty minutes on the Widnes roster with 101 PIM from 16 games, finishing behind Craig Lutkevitch (Blackburn – 122 PIM), Zachary Yokoyama (Nottingham – 120 PIM) and level with the Hawks’ Reece Carney Witter.

In fairness to all of these players, it should be pointed out that following a change in the rules on fighting penalties for the 2021/22 season, the EIHA scoring online system was left with an anomaly where a 5 minute fighting penalty had to be recorded as a “5 + Game” even when no additional game penalty was awarded.

This glitch means that some of the player penalty counts for this 2012/22 season are over-inflated and not entirely accurate.

Top Netminder

In the league netminder standings, the Wild’s Harrison Walker finished as the league’s top goalie with a 91.36% save percentage from 27 league matches, narrowly ahead of Whitley Warriors’ Dean Bowater with 91.12%.

Evan Coles ended up with a very creditable 83.23 SA%, bearing in mind that he had never played at this level before.

Play Offs

Unfortunately, the end of season play offs did not go the way of the Wild and Widnes were knocked out in the quarter-final by Billingham – who they had beaten 4 times out of 4 during the regular season.

A change of format for this season’s play offs saw all 8 teams in the Moralee Division take part in a knock-out round to decide the 4 semi finalists. The pairings were decided by final league placings with 1st v 8th, 2nd v 7th etc and this saw 3rd place Widnes matched against 6th place finishers Billingham Stars.

Under the previous arrangements, the top 4 finishers in the league would have gone straight through to the Play Off weekend in Leeds and Widnes would have played Whitley Warriors in the semi final, giving them another chance to get one over on their north east nemesis.

However, quarter-final knock outs it was and, on this occasion a funny thing happened at the Forum as Widnes had a rare “bad day at the office” and Billingham built up a huge 8-1 lead to carry over to the second leg.

That left too much of a deficit to make up in the return game – even for Widnes – and the 3-2 win gave the Wild a victory on the night but they failed to make the play off weekend for the first time in their history – which took a bit of the shine off an otherwise highly impressive and successful season.

©Widnes Wild Ice Hockey Club
All Photos ©Gw-Images unless otherwise stated

AddressThe Hive, Earle Rd, Widnes WA8 0TA

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